Carraway Blog: "Waking Up from a Dream to Say Goodbye"
Senior Andrew Carraway will be blogging throughout the Virginia baseball team’s historic run to the College World Series, the first for the Cavalier program. Stay tuned to VirginiaSports.com for further updates from Carraway.
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• Video Highlights from the Opening Ceremonies
• Photo Gallery: Behind the Scenes at the CWS
Entry #9: July 13, 2009
“Waking Up from a Dream to Say Goodbye”
With a called strike three in Oxford, Mississippi, the dream began. The Virginia Cavaliers Baseball team had actually made it; we were going to the College World Series!! With the final out in the 12th inning in Omaha, Nebraska, the dream ended. The great thing about dreams: sometimes you remember them. You’d better believe that we’re going to remember this one.
A four-year trip through college baseball includes one consequential, ever-present reality: everybody wants to go to Omaha… really badly. Believe me when I say that no Division I college baseball player will ever escape the mystique of that town in Nebraska. As a Virginia baseball player, I was reminded every fall of that midwestern city. In fact, I have four camouflage ‘Omaha 1186’ t-shirts to prove it. Army crawls across a rain soaked turf football field, three hundred yard sprints before the sun rises and afternoon jogs over a small mountain are only the beginning of what 35 guys are willing to go through to reach the College World Series.
Well, about a month ago that group of guys made it to the College World Series. For me, though, the journey began in August 2005 when I showed up in Charlottesville with a $500 scholarship and a hope that I might be able to compete in the ACC. I was terrified of fall conditioning and these things that Coach O’Connor called 300s. Four years later and with lots of help from my coaches, my parents, God, my friends… I had lived the transition from a scared freshman to a seasoned vet. Then, as an old guy on a team with lots of talent, I got to help out a great group of guys carry Virginia Baseball to the College World Series. Of course, the journey had to come to an end.
On June 17, our season ended with an extra-inning loss to the University of Arkansas. Despite the dramatic loss, I was blessed that night with a few moments that I will treasure forever. In the midst of my last experience as a UVa baseball player I looked up once more and caught a glimpse of all I wanted to see this season: the words ‘Rosenblatt Stadium’ above the scoreboard. For that moment, I thank every Virginia Baseball player and coach and trainer and parent and girlfriend and donor and fan and sibling.
As fresh tears worked their way down mine and my teammates’ faces we held on to the last few seconds of our fairy tale. We exchanged a few powerful hugs, knowing that our season was ending in the legendary city of Omaha. We made our way off the field and back to reality.
Now, I’m sure this blog sounds like a lot of exaggeration and sensationalized sappiness. If you don’t believe my descriptions, ask anyone who’s been: Omaha really is a dreamland for college baseball players. It represents everything that can still be great and pure and true about America’s pastime. It’s about a bunch of steroid-free student-athletes who love baseball and play as hard as they can every day they step between the lines. It’s about the way Coach O’Connor teaches baseball and mentors his baseball players.
I’ve probably said it too much already, but I’ll say it one more time before I say goodbye to UVa. Alongside my teammates and because of my teammates I lived a dream this Spring, and I’ll forever be grateful and humbled and amazed at everything that Omaha is and was and will be to the University of Virginia Baseball team. Seriously.
Entry #8: Tuesday, June 16
“Free Time in Omaha”
Off days in Omaha are a blast because they give us players the opportunity to check out the sights of the College World Series. Following another upbeat and productive practice at Creighton we were free to roam Omaha with our families and friends. For my family and I that meant a trip to the jungle of tents and vendors outside Rosenblatt Stadium.
With our trip I gained crucial information necessary for success during any CWS trip. People don’t travel to the College World Series just to watch baseball; they travel to the College World Series to buy souvenirs (and then to watch baseball). Even if that is a slight overstatement: the memorabilia hunting and purchasing must be taken seriously out here. Walking among the approximate quarter mile of vendor tents a casual fan encounters limitless options in t-shirt, hat, and accessory sales. Unless a fan is prepared to be in the ‘purchasing zone’ he or she must be prepared to become engulfed in a sea of options. Luckily for my family and I, any CWS product without a V-Sabre could be overlooked. Unfortunately for my parents, that limitation didn’t exclude any Oakley sunglass product in which my brothers may be interested.
To avoid the hazards of CWS traffic, we had to exit the vendor jungle before the end of the UNC/Southern Miss game. We spent an hour or so at a team cookout hosted by the Proscia family, re-charged at the hotel, and headed over to Omaha’s attractive Old Market—think Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall with an actual street cutting through the middle. We grabbed a few CDs at an eclectic new/used music store and ate at a restaurant The Twisted Fork (self-labeled as “American food with a cowboy twist.”
Fortunately for us, these types of days give us the chance to live the whole experience. We get to play in the College World Series and take part in the College World Series.
We take on Arkansas tonight at 7pm EST on ESPN2. Check it out!
Entry #7: Monday, June 15
Monday was a fun day at the ballpark. We finally got to take batting practice on Rosenblatt’s field, meaning a few of the other pitchers and I got to do what we love—track down fly balls. Oh yeah … also, WE WON OUR FIRST EVER GAME IN THE COLLEGE WORLD SERIES!! Pretty sweet.
One of the coolest parts of being out here—and winning—is getting to experience firsthand the prevalence of Wahoo Nation. In the last 24 hours or so I have spoken with three former members of the Cavalier baseball team. One played in the 80s, another graduated in 2000, and the third finished up in 2003, just before the O’Connor era began. None of these three former players have any reason to be in Nebraska, except that they’re as excited as we are that Virginia baseball finally made it to the CWS.
That’s right, the Orange and Blue presence out here has been growing steadily over the past few days, and the Wahoos in the stands have already performed several U-V-A chants in Rosenblatt. Friends, family, former players, and a solid group of die-hard UVa baseball fans have made the long (and expensive) trip to the College World Series. Also, we know and have heard from many more Wahoo faithful around the country that are supporting our battle in Omaha. This victory means so much more to us because we get to share and celebrate it with so many, both out here and across the country.
It’s a great feeling to throw 2 2/3 innings and jog off the field with a lead and the satisfaction of finally, finally getting to pitch in the College World Series. It’s also a great feeling to walk over to a group of friends and families who are just as happy as we are. The feeling continues when we get to our phones and read text messages and Facebook messages from friends and fellow Cavaliers back home. The feeling continues when we walk into the hotel and are greeted (always) by smiles from an orange and blue clad mom or dad. The feeling continues…. I think you get the picture.
To everyone who had any part in making this possible, thank you.
We have a lot more fighting left to do in this tournament, but I just wanted to take a moment to say it. On behalf of all us players: thanks.
Entry #6: Saturday, June 13 and Sunday, June 14
“Now We Get to Play with Our Backs Against the Wall”
If you’ve been following the College World Series you’ll know by now that we lost to the Tigers of Louisiana State. I’m sure many articles have already been written on the game, so I won’t elaborate on its details. LSU played better than we did, and they won the game. They have a great team and played a great game. They are playing Arkansas Monday night, while our backs are now against the wall. However, if the past few weeks have proven anything, maybe that’s the best thing for us.
The atmosphere in and around Rosenblatt is awesome. The hosts do an amazing job in running the tournament and entertaining the fans. Outside the stadium is Fanfest, an attractive collection of fan-oriented games, ranging from Wiffle ball home run derby to a football toss and much more. My brothers, dad, and uncle tried out the speed of pitch toss today (alongside a group of 6 year-olds).
This afternoon, our team got a fan’s eye view of Rosenblatt Stadium. After practice at Creighton, we rode to the Stadium to watch a bit of the UNC-Arizona State game. Barr, Grovatt, Packer, and I grabbed bratwursts and tried to find a seat. We walked from first base to right field without finding four open seats together. If you were to ask any of us I think we’d all agree: spending an hour as a fan today gave us a better appreciation of being a fan. So … thanks for sticking out the long lines and unavailable seats to continue being a college baseball fan.
Our battle in Omaha continues tomorrow at 1 pm CST, as we take on the Cal State Fullerton Titans.
Entry #5: Friday, June 12
“An All-American Opening Ceremony”
Tonight we got our first taste of a fan-filled Rosenblatt Stadium. It’s even more exciting than an empty Rosenblatt Stadium. (Not surprised?)
In the morning we rode over to the stadium and waited while the K-9 Unit enlisted a German shepherd to check for drugs and such underneath the bus. After not finding anything illegal, the authorities gave us the clear to exit the bus and proceed towards the starry-eyed children and waiting cameras. Unfortunately, the rain (that follows us across the country) forced practice off the field and into the cages. This was a slight bummer both to the position players, who couldn’t take BP on the field, and to the pitchers, who couldn’t track down fly balls on the “Field of Dreams.”
After practice, we headed inside for a sports wagering presentation, which was given by an NCAA official and two members of the FBI’s Omaha office—you can imagine that it was a pretty serious talk. Following our educational session on organized crime and bookmaking, we walked over to the stadium’s concourse, where we signed autographs for the long line of attendees. It was good to see some Virginia fans in the line; of course, most were likely there in hopes of grabbing an autograph from the next Ryan Zimmerman or Ryan Braun. Either way, it’s a pretty cool thing that a person can get excited when one of us writes our name on a sheet of paper.
The undisputed highlight of the day came tonight, when we took part in the 2009 College World Series Opening Ceremony. In front of an approximate 10,000-15,000 fans each team was introduced by a few words, a highlight video, and a celebratory walk. The walk was the best part. We began in deep center field, and the view was one of the best things I’ve ever seen.
As I stared into the mist of the Nebraska night I glided past the surrounding baton twirlers, across the real life Field of Dreams, and towards the thousands of cheering fans. During this once in a lifetime type walk, my teammates, the supporting crowd, and I were granted the privilege of hearing the first ever Rosenblatt announcement of the Virginia Cavaliers. With awe-filled faces we proceeded across the infield and past the pitcher’s mound and took our seats next to Southern Miss.
The memorable night continued with the presentation of academic awards—Robert Morey deservingly received our team’s award—and an impressive and long-lasting display of fireworks. To kick off the College World Series, one of the game’s most pure, best examples of what a steroid-stained sport can still truly be, the tournament hosts filled the sky with color and fire while playing “Glory Days” and “God Bless America.” If you’ve seen the movie The Sandlot then you can reference that movie’s July 4th fireworks for a comparison. Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez and Hamilton Porter would have been proud. Thousands of faces were lit beneath the glowing sky as everyone on hand got to experience an event that just may have been more American than apple pie.
By the time I post my next entry, we will have played our first game in Omaha. The College World Series begins tomorrow on ESPN. Following Fullerton and Arkansas in Game 1, the Virginia Cavaliers will be battling the LSU Tigers on ESPN—7 p.m. eastern.
Entry #4: Thursday, June 11
“Sunglasses, hats and cleats. OH MY!”
I think I’ve been getting a little too sappy recently, so I’m going to switch my tone a little for today’s entry. Our entrance and first full day in Omaha have each been pretty sweet, so I’ll just describe some details surrounding those events.
First of all, we’re treated like rock stars everywhere we go. We’re still almost 48 hours from our first pitch, but we’ve already been greeted by cameras on at least three different occasions. Whenever we step off the bus, we are met by a pack of kids waiting for and receiving an autograph. We walked into our hotel last night and received many a handshake and a promise that the greeters were cheering for us. My first reaction to the warm welcome at the hotel was, of course, ‘yeah right, you tell all the teams that.’ However, my skepticism quickly turned to belief when I realized how the set-up here works. There are eight host hotels for eight teams. We are the only team at the CWS staying in this hotel. Essentially, this has become the UVa Holiday Inn. As such, the adjoining hotel sports bar has been turned into a Cavalier hotspot; a waitress informed us that she spent eight hours helping to hang up all the UVa baseball posters, Virginia banners, blue and orange streamers and Power of Orange banners. Members of the hotel staff wear Virginia shirts and hats.There’s a big time Charlottesville feel to this hotel.
Anyway, this morning we woke up and went to breakfast as usual (except that we did it in OMAHA!!). At 12:45 CST the bus departed for practice at Coach O’Connor’s alma mater, Creighton University. We walked off the bus ready to face the cameras, again, and a few people were interviewed before practice. Also, before practice, we started getting a taste of one of the best parts of being out here: FREE STUFF!!
A representative from a sunglass company called SunDog talked to us about the sweet sunglasses we were about to get. The nice gentleman explained to us why Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers uses SunDogs—the ‘mela’ lenses reduce eye fatigue. After each of us picked the pair that likely reduces eye fatigue and definitely looks cool, we continued with practice.
We got back to the hotel, turned in our laundry, and picked up more sweet, free stuff and the coolest pair of cleats I’ve ever seen. Nike custom-designed a pair of Omaha spikes for everyone. Each cleat has an orange Nike swoosh and ‘CWS’ imprinted in at least 2 different places. On the back of the cleat is embroidered ‘the greatest show on dirt.’ On the tongue of the shoe is a representation of the state of Nebraska with a star indicating the location of Omaha. We may not be pro athletes, but capitalism still works. You win in business and you get lots of money. You win in college baseball and you get hats, shirts, sunglasses, a killer pair of cleats.
For dinner, we traveled as a team to a nearby steakhouse. Regarding the steaks in Nebraska, infielder Corey Hunt brought up a great question: if you eat an Omaha steak in Charlottesville, it’s an Omaha steak. If you eat an Omaha steak in Omaha is it just a steak?? The answer didn’t matter to us tonight because we crossed over the border into Iowa to eat our steaks … gotcha thinking though.
Now we’re going to play baseball at some point (or so we’re told)…. Don’t take that too seriously. We’ll keep our focus.
Entry #3: Wednesday, June 10
“If You Build It, We Will Dream”
We stepped onto a real-life Field of Dreams today. After landing in Omaha, we made a quick stop by Rosenblatt Stadium. To help the casual fan understand what Rosenblatt means to a college baseball player: I came back to UVa for my fourth year with one goal: to travel to Omaha and step onto Rosenblatt’s diamond as a player. Today, mine dream and my teammates’ dreams came true.
The stadium was empty, but the giant letters (spelling R-O-S-E-N-B-L-A-T-T) above the scoreboard could not be missed. he big black letters stood as a symbol looming over us today, representing everything for which a college baseball player strives. As we worked our way around the field’s outer track, no one needed to say a word. We all understood that, today, we became one of only eight baseball teams of 2009 that is allowed the symbolic and satisfying walk around an empty Rosenblatt Stadium.
Before I fall asleep tonight, I can lie awake pondering this occasion, this day where a dream actually came true. But I can’t ponder too long because I’ll be distracted by thoughts that remind me why this day rivals all of my other days.This afternoon, a Major League Baseball team decided that they want to pay me to play baseball.
After practice, I checked online and found that the Seattle Mariners had selected me in the 12th round with the 353rd pick of the draft. Just maybe, I could be bothered by the knowledge that this means 352 players in this year’s draft class are considered better than me. However, to a kid who (some 15 years ago) would wake up at 6:30 a.m. just to watch Major League highlights on SportsCenter, it’s a pretty good day when one of those teams decides to call your name.
But … I’ll have plenty of time to work on that Big League dream … after I do everything I can as a Virginia Cavalier living through this one.
Entry #2: Tuesday, June 9
“A Day in the Life”
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … Actually, it’s pretty much just the best of times. Life is sweet being on a team that’s about to go to the College World Series.
The day began with a press conference and a decent amount of media attention. After being a UVa student-athlete for the last few years, it’s really fun to see local and Virginia newspapers and TV stations take this kind of interest in our baseball program. College baseball seems to be on the rise nationally, and it’s cool that some of that current rise involves the University of Virginia. I can only imagine that the hype surrounding next year’s team will be even larger.
Apparently, Omaha is going to be ridiculous. Coach O’Connor spent about 30 minutes today telling us why we should expect everything in Nebraska to be completely different than what we have ever experienced. I’ll provide further details when we actually start experiencing this anticipated awesomeness. Coach also stressed a point that probably didn’t need mention; he clearly communicated that Omaha is not the goal, but rather a national championship.
With Coach’s knowledgeable words (he’s already been to the CWS twice) in mind, we continued with our first practice since the super regional. A thunderstorm forced us inside, and while I was warming up in UHall, I realized something: when a team is two weeks from a national championship, practice just isn’t that bad. We’re so close to our ultimate goal that everyone is actually excited to put in that extra repetition.
Before our team practice, we were greeted by a number of generously supportive fans in UHall. Coach O’Connor addressed the group, and every player, coach, manager, and trainer was individually introduced. Everyone has, at some point, been disappointed that we couldn’t achieve this milestone in front of the Davenport faithful. Because of this unfortunate reality, it was great to see some of the people who have been behind us all the way.
It’s also great to know that they’ll be with us to the end.
Entry #1: Monday, June 8
“Bruce Springsteen Knows What He’s Talking About”
I can understand the Boss a little better now. For the last 10 months, this team has truly been “Working on a Dream.” Omaha—the College World Series—is the dream for every Division I player and team in the nation. For inspiration in the fall, our coaches gave us camouflage shirts and hats carrying the word “Omaha.” We have run 300 yard sprints at 6:30 a.m., performed army crawls and spent countless hours on the field all for one hope: to make it to OMAHA. Well…. we’re going!!
As expected, every person on our team is ridiculously excited and overcome with anticipation right now. For us older guys on the team though, it means so much more. We’ve been around Davenport long enough to host two regionals and hear all the talk of getting over that darn “regional hump.” We’ve finally made it over the hump, and it feels great. Still, we can’t take all the credit.
In the past few weeks I have either seen or heard from Jeff Kamrath, Sean Doolittle, Mike Campagna, Tim Henry, Mark Reynolds, Pat McAnaney, Brandon Marsh, Josh Myers, Josh Darby, Michael Schwimer and Ryan Hudson. Each of these guys played on great Virginia baseball teams. Each put in enough work to merit their own trip to Omaha. It’s obvious, at least to us older guys, that our team has accomplished so much this year not only because of what we have done, but also because of the work and the dedication put in by the players of past who really built this program. Guys like Robert Poutier and myself know that we’re just the lucky ones who get to experience the inevitable results firsthand.
Being the lucky ones, we get to travel to OMAHA this week and compete for a national championship. On the trip home Dan Grovatt kept repeating the phrase, “we’re going to Omaha,” because he couldn’t really grasp the concept. This place, this far off dream called Omaha is going to become a reality for us. Our flight leaves on Wednesday, so this must really be happening.
As my uncle Ben pointed out, Omaha’s Rosenblatt Stadium really is the Field of Dreams for us, and we’ve achieved enough to get ourselves a spot on the diamond. However, nobody plays a season or competes their butts off to finish in eighth place. We’re going to Nebraska to win a national championship. Each of us realizes that there is still more work to be done. We’ve been playing great baseball, and every Cavalier on that field has the utmost confidence in the guy next to him. That confidence and our hard work this week will have to be what carries us through the rest of our season.
We’ve already had a chance to hoist high one championship trophy this year. ‘Hoo knows, maybe on June 22 we’ll all wake up from this dream holding on to one more.